“Land of Liberty”—An Original Spangled Songs Contribution by Ann Arbor Lawton Elementary

Francis Scott Key is one of the legendary figures of American history; he can also be an inspiration to us today.


Ira Lax welcomes students to AADL

To dig more deeply into the meaning and significance of Key’s lyrical creation—”In Defence of Fort McHenry,” now known as “The Star-Spangled Banner” as well as the national anthem of the United States, I wanted elementary students to follow Key’s lead and write their own anthem— about their school, their city, or maybe even the whole nation. I hoped to encourage student lyricists to explore the ideas and meaning behind their original anthem and thus be inspired to examine the ideals of freedom, fortitude, courage, and unity in Key’s words and what these notions might mean for them in America today.

Then I met Ira Lax, from the Outreach and Neighborhood Services office of the Ann Arbor [Michigan] District Library. Ira runs an educational program known as “Library Songsters” in which musicians were partnered with elementary music teachers to write original songs. Ira quickly warmed to the idea of having kids in his program write anthems to enrich their knowledge and understanding of American history. After a brief meeting, he agreed to pitch the idea to his collaborators.

Just a few months later I got an email inviting me to attend an exciting premiere!

The results blew me away! Lawton music teacher Cynthia Page-Bogen worked with AADL’s Library Songster — singer/songwriter Joe Reilly — to create “Land of Liberty.” They had studied Key’s original and, while I had expected the students to write new words to the same melody, creativity took over and they wrote both new words and a new tune. The lyric (see below) not only works beautifully artistically, it’s both serious and fun. The kids celebrate their favorite things, from country music and marshmallows to crystal clear lakes, mountain vistas, the Bill of Rights, jazz, and American cheese! They also explore the collective responsibilities we all have to grow our democracy, noting that “We want freedom and our rights / We work for them day and night” and that “We are all one country under one sky.” The lyric celebrates our nation as both a “land of diversity” and a “place of possibility.”

Lawton Elementary music teacher Cynthia Page-Bogen

Lawton Elementary music teacher Cynthia Page-Bogen explains the Spangled Song / Library Songster Project, Feb. 13, 2013

Singer/songwriter Joe Reilly told me a bit about his approach and goals for the songster project:

“I simply try to share the practices that have fueled my creative process with the kids.  I try to emphasize… that there is no right or wrong way to approach songwriting….  My intent is to empower them to not only connect with their “inner songwriter,” but to listen to this voice and also to share it with others.  Because the Library Songsters format is setup to write one collective song, the process of listening to each others’ ideas and finding common ground is important.  The process itself is the most meaningful part of the program for me, the resulting song is a great bonus, and serves as a living reminder for the students that their voices matters and that they can be creative in how they use their voice.”


Joe Reilly sings with Lawton students

I’d like to offer my own standing and heartfelt ovation to the fifth graders of Lawton Elementary, their music teacher Cynthia Page-Bogen, singer/songwriter Joe Reilly, and Ira Lax and the AADL Library Songsters project for this incredible effort. You did a FANTASTIC job! I hope the experiment was not only meaningful for you, but that it serves as an inspiration for students, teachers, and songwriters across the nation…

See http://www.joereilly.org/ for more about singer / songwriter Joe Reilly. More about the Ann Arbor District Library can be found at http://www.aadl.org/

“Land of Liberty” Lyrics

America is where we want to be
It’s the only place you’ll find me
Look around and you will see
It’s the land of liberty (x2)

America is where we want to be
It’s the only place you’ll find me
Look around and you will see
Fifty states of liberty
It’s the land of diversity
It’s the place of possibility

The land of cows, marshmallows, and mosquitoes
The Great Lakes, Yellowstone, everywhere that we go
We want freedom and our rights
We work for them day and night
Many heroes have taken a stand
To let freedom ring across the land (CHORUS)

From the crystal clear lakes to the Rocky Mountains high
We are all one country under one sky
We have many national monuments
Dedicated to our leaders and presidents
We have the Bill of Rights for all citizens
We even have a state shaped like a mitten—that’s Michigan! CHORUS

The Mississippi River sure is long
On its shores there’s been many a song
American music is jazz and blues
Rock and roll, country, and hip hop too
We love to sing and we love to dance
Everyone is welcome to give it a chance CHORUS

Our journey is not yet complete
We’re still growing our democracy
There’s so much that we can be
When we have justice and equality—and American cheese please!!! CHORUS

America is where we want to be
It’s the only place you’ll find me
Look around and you will see
It’s the land of liberty (x2)


About usmusicscholar

I am an Associate Professor of Musicology, American Culture and African-American Studies at the University of Michigan's School of Music, Theatre & Dance.
This entry was posted in Education, Elementary, Songwriting, Spangled Songs. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to “Land of Liberty”—An Original Spangled Songs Contribution by Ann Arbor Lawton Elementary

  1. garistein says:

    A wonderful heartwarming project. It was a thrill to watch the students perform with joy and gusto. Kudos to Cynthia and Joe for their devotion and hard work. And congratulations to Ira Lax, and his vision for the ‘Songsters’ programming, which brings to fruition this creative approach to learning. Not just for these students, but for hundreds in and around Ann Arbor MI. Bravo!

  2. vijayalakshmi says:

    very interesting & good to listen. congratulations, keep it up.

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